I don't need to tell you how much of a classic J.R.R Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings" series is. I don't need to tell you that its influence has been felt all over, from "Star Wars" to Led Zeppelin. I also don't need to tell you what a huge undertaking it is for anyone to adapt it to the big screen, something which many considered impossible. But lo and behold, here it is, a well-acted, respectfully scripted and incredibly epic film that only years ago would have been considered a fanboy's pipe dream.
Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) is an unassuming, happy little hobbit (little people for those who aren't Tolkein-initiated). His uncle, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is preparing to leave his home in the Shire (someplace in the Middle-Earth) for some peace and quiet. Years before the start of the film, he found a ring that allows people to disappear in the hideout of a creature named Gollum. He doesn't know that it's really a "Ring of Power" that would give Supreme Evil Guy Sauron the strength he needs to take over the world. Silly Bilbo. Well, anyway, after a huge birthday party in his honor, Bilbo leaves the Shire and the ring behind him. His residence and many of his possessions (including the ring) go to Frodo. Wizard friend Gandalf (Ian McKellen) comes to tell him all about the ring, who's searching for it and what Frodo has to do: bring it across Middle-Earth to Rivendell, where it will be temporarily safe. Frodo leaves with three of his hobbit friends, Pippin (Billy Boyd), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Sam (Sean Astin) to do his duty. The ring proves to be a real pain in the ass, with nine seemingly immortal Ringwraiths (I'm not gonna explain these things anymore, so just go read the books, OK?) on their tail. Some protection comes from Aragon (or "Strider") who helps them out of more than just plain ol' good will. Some may consider this a spoiler, but the four hobbits + Strider get the ring to Rivendell, where we learn that the ring has to be destroyed at the center of Mount Doom. Always the brave one, Frodo agrees to take it there, and a fellowship of elves, dwarves, hobbits and men will protect him. From there our adventure continues.
It's not too much of a stretch to call "The Fellowship of the Ring" the most ambitious Hollywood offering of the year (don't even talk to me about "Moulin Rouge", which played it very safe thank you very much). New Line took huge risks enlisting a relatively unknown director (Peter Jackson) and trusting him with about $350 million and one of the most revered fantasy epics of all time. All three films were shot at the same time, so if this one failed, there'd be trouble for New Line. But thankfully, "Fellowship" is a success, containing its fair share of magnificent moments. The last time I enjoyed a purely fantasy film this much was the original "Star Wars".
The beginning of the film is where I found the most faults, and it's a rare case of the omission of details from the source actually being distracting. That is a little nit-pick, and very soon, the film had me under its spell. "The Fellowship of the Ring", unlike another wildly popular fantasy film (*cough* "Harry Potter" *cough*), is not a slavish mirage of visual interpretations. Rather, this film is it's own. Jackson has done a terrific job in making everything seem real and natural. I got the feeling that each set has a magnificent history behind it, like the film was merely there documenting one quest in the long life of the Middle Earth. There is some magic afoot here; I really believed that the Middle Earth existed.
The cast of "Fellowship", for the most part, does a magnificent job. I enjoyed the hobbits, and Elijah Wood, who isn't exactly the first person one would think to play Frodo, does a very good job. I wasn't as impressed with Ian Holm, whose performance was unfortunately the low point of the film. He was all fine and good while playing the hobbit in his quieter moments, but when it's time to get serious, he plays Bilbo so fiercely that it was simply unpleasant to watch him. But fortunately, he is given little screen time and is given less dramatic moments, so that is a small quibble. The women of "Fellowship", although we see them just as much as Bilbo, do good. I enjoyed the little twist on the original flight to Rivendell that helped us get to know Lady Arwen (Liv Tyler) a little more, and Cate Blanchett is (literally) luminous as Galadriel. A few of the characters in the fellowship go undeveloped, but most people do not want to sit through a four hour director's cut, so unfortunately Jackson did have to cut a few corners. But out of the entire cast, it is Ian McKellen who is most memorable. He is more than completely and totally believable; I was convinced that he was the only one who could ever play Gandalf.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is a solid, sometimes mesmerizing work. This seems like a movie that will be remembered for a while, and I hope that the next two films can follow suit. We are going to be a spoiled bunch of moviegoers these next two years, if we get this kind of present every holiday season. Finally, here we have a finely made film to add to the list of enduring cinematic fantasies. The tagline says "Power can be held in the smallest of things." It's a good thing Hollywood realized this, and trusted the small New Zealand team that brought this epic to life. At least someone these days knows how to get bang for their buck.